Unfortunately, I haven’t explored as much of Central Italy as I wish I had. The thing about the area is you don’t just visit big cities (though you really can’t do without seeing Florence and Bologna) but rather take the time to get to little-known jewels, at least the ones that are easy day trips. (Yes, you’ll need a car – or a lot of time and patience).
San Leo is less than two hours away from Bologna (and very, very close to San Marino). This small town (c. 3000 inhabitants) is surrounded by the most beautiful countryside and so isolated we saw a deer at the margin of a neighbouring village. Umberto Eco called it the most beautiful town in Italy – all of one fortress, two churches, one pharmacy, and one hotel. Local people talked about runaway horses while we strolled.
Reaching San Leo from Bologna:
The Rocchetta Mattei is another thing entirely. About one hour away from Bologna, in a lovely hilly landscape, it was built in the 19th century by Cesare Mattei in a style that combined Mudejar, medieval, Spanish and Renaissance. In this palace, he attempted to cure people’s ailments with a technique he himself invented, called electro-homeopathy.
Mattei was a peculiar man, who built his study so that no sounds from the outside world would reach it (it was isolated with bricks made from newspapers and letters addressed to him) and built a drawbridge in the corridor leading to his bedroom.
The Rocchetta was restored over the past new years and you can now tour it with a guide. Tours last 75 minutes, take place every 15 minutes Saturdays and Sundays, and booking is mandatory (at the bottom of this page: http://www.rocchettamattei-riola.it/). Tickets are 10 EUR each and are paid before the tour begins.
Reaching Rocchetta Mattei from Bologna: